‘Father Michael’s love for the Church is magnificent’

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

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Father Olson joins confirmation students from St. Michael Church in the home of teacher Rosary Guidry. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Olson)

It was a clever idea that transformed a group of teens preparing for Confirmation. And it wouldn’t have happened without help from an understanding parish priest.

Rosary Guidry, a religious education teacher at St. Michael Church in Bedford, wanted someone to celebrate the Mass “step-by- step” for her teenage students.

“I was concerned the kids didn’t know anything about the Mass,” she explains. “So I asked Father Michael if he could say a Mass in slow motion and explain where everything came from and why.”

Later that week, then-Father Michael Olson, who was parochial vicar at St. Michael from July 1994 to June 1997, celebrated Mass in the Bedford home of Bert and Rosary Guidry surrounded by two confirmation classes. Everyone took part in the evening liturgy as he explained why each prayer was important and what the early Christians did.

“It was wonderful. After the Mass, they started asking him questions and he had the answers,” Guidry remembers. “Father Michael’s love for the Church is magnificent. But he also has a sense of humor that helps him relate to teens and young adults. He’s firm in what he believes but also open and loving.”

It’s those qualities that will make Guidry’s longtime friend — Bishop Michael Olson — a good leader for the Diocese of Fort Worth, she says.

The mother of four considers the former pastor — who is godfather to three of her grandchildren — part of her family. All of her children and their families are attending Bishop Olson’s 2 p.m., Jan. 29 ordination Mass at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

“We are proud to have known him all this time,” says the Louisiana native. “It’s because of him that my kids are so in touch with the Church.”

Another longtime member of St. Michael Church, Monika Sumcizk, says the former assistant pastor is also a role model for her six children. Son, Michael, a first year student at St. Joseph Seminary in Louisiana, will assist in the ordination liturgy with other seminarians from Fort Worth.

“He’s very excited. We’ll all be there,” says the Bedford resident, who met Michael Olson at a welcome dinner in 1988 when he was studying for the priesthood.

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Father Olson celebrated the wedding of Michael and Julie Hancock at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grapevine in 2001. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Olson)

The Sumcizks lived across the street from St. Michael Church after moving to the area, and the eager seminarian hand-delivered their parish registration forms.

“After meeting him, we became more involved in the parish,” she explains. “By far, Fr. Michael has been the biggest influence in our family and my husband’s spiritual growth.”

The bishop is godfather to three of the Sumcizk children and has been involved in a Baptism or Confirmation of the others.

“People at St. Michael were praying for a bishop, and many were hoping it would be Monsignor Olson,” Sumcizk reveals. “The Holy Spirit definitely had a hand in this. He’ll be a wonderful bishop for the diocese.”

Parishioners at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in White Settlement also speculated their former pastor might become the next bishop, according to Jack Drewett, a parishioner since 1958. Bishop Olson was St. Peter’s pastor from July 2006 to June 2008 while serving as vicar general of the diocese.

“He has a warm personality and his communication skills are excellent,” Drewett says. “Everyone I’ve talked to is delighted.”

As pastor, Fr. Michael would occasionally be a minute or two late for Mass.

“One morning I chided him about it,” Drewett says, recalling the affable priest’s quick comeback. “He reminded me that he’s never late for Mass because it doesn’t start until he gets there.”

Diane Cluley got to know the bishop when he was 25 years old and spending his pastoral year as a seminarian at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Wichita Falls. The 81-year-old was awed that a young person could have such depth and wisdom.

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Father Olson stands with the First Holy Communion class of 2007 while he was pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in White Settlement. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Olson)

“He loved visiting older people in rest homes. When I asked why, his answer surprised me,” Cluley discloses. “He said it was because they are so close to seeing the face of God. He has that kind of faith.”

The charter member of Our Lady Queen of Peace stayed in contact with the priest throughout the years and saved all of his correspondence. A letter Fr. Michael sent 20 years ago to her youngest son is particularly special. It was written after one of the boy’s friends was killed in a car accident.

“Over the years, I’ve shared it with others who lost people,” said Cluley, describing how the thoughtful condolence explains how we’re still connected to deceased loved ones through the Eucharist. “It always amazed me that he could be so profound one moment and then joke around with the kids the next. He has a love that reaches out to people and transcends age.”

The bishop has a few cherished letters of his own, Rosary Guidry reveals. After celebrating the Mass in “slow motion” for her confirmation class, the obliging priest returned to the Guidry home every week to answer questions posed by the teenagers.

Some of his impressionable listeners challenged Church teachings.

“He would sit there and not give in. His answers were firm but loving,” adds Guidry, recalling how the teens were drawn to the explanations that were sometimes flavored with humor. “They all fell in love with him.”

When members of that class went off to college, many wrote Fr. Michael letters thanking him for saving their faith. Many have remained in contact with their mentor.

“Those kids are now adults with families of their own, and he’s kept those letters in a treasure box,” Guidry says. “That confirmation class is where he touched the lives of so many young people who, in turn, are touching the lives of others.”

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Bp-Olson-w-confirmation-kids-BUTTON.jpgIt was a clever idea that transformed a group of teens preparing for Confirmation. And it wouldn’t have happened without help from an understanding parish priest. Rosary Guidry, a religious education teacher at St. Michael Church in Bedford, wanted someone to celebrate the Mass “step-by- step” for her teenage students.

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